LONDON (Reuters) – And then there was one….
After the spectacular implosion of the Jose Mourinho regime at Chelsea, there is now just one world-beating coach left in the global game with a glittering curriculum vitae unsullied by the stain of any striking failure.
Step forward then Pep Guardiola, whose announcement on Sunday that he plans to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season simply makes him Europe’s most wanted, the one man that every major club in the world who could afford him will have on their Christmas wish list.
After spells at Barcelona and Bayern that have been laden with trophies and decorated with performances which have identified them as two of Europe’s most exceptional teams of their generation, Guardiola wants a new challenge — and England is calling.
Actually, make that Manchester shouting the loudest.
Expect Manchester United, currently suffering a thousand agonies under the prosaic leadership of Louis van Gaal, to start belatedly making eyes at the Spaniard as discontent with the autocratic former schoolteacher rumbles ever louder.
So far, United have shown, publicly at least, no interest in the 44-year-old as they stand by their not-so-flying Dutchman.
Yet now Guardiola is free and rumour continues to spread that he supposedly has United, arguably the world’s biggest club, at the top of his wish list, that could change as swiftly as United’s fortunes deteriorate.
Especially with Van Gaal’s old veneer of self-confidence gradually beginning to evaporate.
Asked after United’s 2-1 defeat at home to Norwich City on Saturday if he feared for his future, he said: “Yes of course I am worried about that because I know that belief in a manager is very important”.
Across town Manchester City and their Abu Dhabi owners have been courting Guardiola for so long and so assiduously that it would be no surprise if an agreement has already been put in place for him to join their money-no-object project next season.
Even Manuel Pellegrini, the current manager, sounds, from recent pronouncements, as if he supports the idea of Guardiola as his successor.
“Pep Guardiola will work here [in England], I don’t know if it is next season here [at City] or at another club. Some day he’ll come here,” said Pellegrini who has 18 months left on his contract.
“I hope he will have the option to work at Manchester City. I say that because I love this club and I hope, in the future, he can work here also. I am sure he will be very important for the club.”
If that makes it sound almost a done deal, then Mourinho’s departure from Chelsea may have clouded the picture.
Media reports suggest that Blues owner Roman Abramovich, always on the lookout for the ultimate signing, will see Guardiola as the perfect long-term replacement for his favourite stop-gap Guus Hiddink who on Saturday signed a deal until the season’s end.
Arsenal’s name, too, has been linked, with Guardiola touted as the man that the club sees as being ideal to finally take the reins from Arsene Wenger.
“As a player I couldn’t realise my dream to play there (in England) but I hope in the future, I have a challenge to be a coach or a manager there,” Guardiola said in an interview to mark the 150th anniversary of the English FA two years ago.
“It is unique to play in that league. I want to feel the supporters, the environment, the media and the style of the players and everything.”
He will get what he wishes but the Premier League must wait to learn the destination of the man who now knows how Mourinho used to feel when he was every club and country’s must-have manager.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)